Lightweight Materials Revolutionise Fashion Of Facades

New colours and finishes have lifted the profile of light weight cladding as an exterior choice.

The use of lightweight cladding on external facades has grown over the last ten years, Ben Thompson of Cemintel has confirmed to Building Knowledge.

External wall cladding market share* 2004 2014
Detached Res
Masonry 85% 65%
Lightweight 15% 35%
Multi Res (Hi-rise)
Masonry 80% 30%
Lightweight 20% 70%
Excludes glazed areas

“While we expect this trend to continue, what is interesting is that awareness of the benefits of lightweight construction has grown,” Thompson said.

“From a residential perspective, Australia is traditionally a brick market, however recently we have seen a strong move towards a greater mix of different textures and materials on the exterior of buildings. New products now need to both complement the use of brick as well as provide alternatives, and fibre cement is an optimum product to take advantage of this trend.” Composite design has increased dramatically in the last five years where up to four different materials can be found on the facades of residential and commercial buildings.


Extensive product development in both brick and lightweight materials has seen dramatic improvements in building aesthetics, durability and maintenance – with striking designs, low cost of repair and a longer life expectancy, all key factors in the long term impact of a building.

Kathy Demos of Supermaquette Pty Ltd is a renowned Australian designer, who also works with manufacturers to design and develop new products for the construction sector.

“I think material selection is extremely important for all types of construction and uses. The most important aspects I find for lightweight cladding is that it’s often based on efficient and easy-to-use systems that conceal fixings,” she told Building Knowledge.

Demos also thinks there has been some past resistance to its wider utilisation.

"Once you get beyond the technical characteristics and suitability for the job, you're then looking at the fact that there is historically  some resistance to lightweight material use because of the kind of uses and applied finishes that it's had in the past.

“To overcome that, of course companies are looking at different finishes, so it can appeal to a broader audience, and be properly considered as an option with its own merit, and not just a cost-driven choice.”

Ben Thompson said product innovation such as pre-finished panels with designer features has certainly seen gains in popularity, due to aesthetics and practicality of installation.

“With its ease of installation, durability, low maintenance and weather proofing, fibre cement presents an ideal long term solution. Traditionally, fibre cement panels were available only in simple wood-grained boards.

“However there are now extensive ranges of colours and textures available, which open up myriad possibilities in design,” he enthused.

Because of the growing density of population and the need for housing, Kathy Demos notes that Australia is going through a time where buildings are starting to become more vertical than the usual kind of suburban block, and so the lightweight elements are extremely desirable.

“We haven’t seen a lot of it being used in lower scale buildings such as the housing sector, but I believe that that will change quite significantly because materials that are heavier, like bricks, will be then combined with materials like aerated concrete panels and fibre cement sheets, where the bricks start to become more of the feature rather than the main building material,” Demos said.

Not all is lost for the bricks industry however, with a dramatic increase in new product launches with varied textural treatments and colours providing designers with some exciting palette choices. In a more competitive marketplace bricks have risen to the challenge to create their own unique value proposition.

“Opportunity exists for product innovation, whether it’s bricks as a fashion statement or light weight cladding as an appropriate product for the housing sector. That will drive developments in textures, colours and finishes; and is just as appropriate for low rise buildings as it is for high rise and commercial buildings that we’re seeing the products being used for currently,” Demos concludes.

Ben Thompson says the Australian construction sector has seen a strong move towards a greater use of different materials on the exterior of homes.

“The opportunities for experimentation in design and architecture abound,” he told Building Knowledge.

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